This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.
This is number forty eight in the series of albums I’m featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of vinyl albums in my personal collection.
The series is called, “Cream of The Crate”, and they represent vinyl albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.
Some have said that music didn’t so much burst into the 1960’s, but rather sidled in uncomfortably. With the music payola scandal of 1959, Elvis going into the army and the emasculation of Rock and Roll it may have been very dull indeed except for the rise of an exciting new music on the West Coast of the USA.
This was the development of what has been termed, “Surf Music“.
This leads me to an album that I have had in my collection since 1963, in fact it was the very first vinyl album that I ever bought with my own money. The artist is the man who is credited as playing the very first piece of ‘surf rock music’, and his name is Dick Dale.
Born in May 1937, Dick Dale was self taught and has established himself for ever as a pioneer of surf/rock music.
My choice of albums to review is “King of the Surf Guitar“, and I have done this over another of his albums that I have, “Surfers Choice“.
“Surfers Choice” was his first album released in 1962, and it featured “Let’s Go Trippin‘” – regarded as the first surf rock song. I did buy this this album after I bought “King of the Surf Guitar“, which in turn was released in June of 1963 on the Capitol Label (ST-1903).
Sadly, in the 1970’s a large number of my album collection was stolen so I replaced the album with a Belgium pressing – Capitol label C-058_85313
I no longer recall why I originally bought the album, it was very unlikely that I heard it on local radio, as Dick Dale (and his group the Del-Tones) were largely unheard of in Australia.
In fact it is worth mentioning that the Del-Tones should not be confused with the Australian ‘surf/outfit, the “Deltones“. This was a Sydney based group playing he same period, and featuring Ian “Peewee” Wilson.
Whatever the reason was that I bought “King of the Surf Guitar“, was I was certainly transfixed by the sound, the excitement that was generated and that fact that it was so different from what I was being subjected to on radio!
He pioneered the use of ‘fast scales’ in his playing and developed a rapid picking style, based upon his experience of having been taught to play the Tarabaki (a Lebanese drum), by his uncle. In fact it has been claimed that Dick Dale bought Arabic Folk song to Surf music.
His unique style was totally supported by his choice and use of a Fender Stratocaster.
It is interesting to note that he was a left handed guitarist, and further, while a few years later Jimi Hendrix would make an art form from playing a right handed guitar upside down Hendrix did often restring the guitar, Dale played it upside down without restringing.
Later he did move to left handed guitars once the number of left handed guitarists drove the need for such a guitar.
Because of his ‘percussive’ style, he used a very heavy gauge of strings (16p, 18p, 20p. 38w, 48w, 58w), and combined with his penchant for turning up his fender amps to 10, he really was (according to Guitar Player Magazine), the Father of Heavy Metal!
He destroyed Fender amps as fast as Leo Fender replaced them. Even though Fender ended up designing a ‘head’ and cabinet especially for Dick, it still couldn’t take the punishment.
In the end Dick went to the James B Lansing Company, and as a result the now famous 15″ JBL D130F model was developed.
Because his music was so exciting, and he was so far ahead of the rest, it was no wonder he was the number one choice for the “Beach Party” movies and the dozens of derivative beach type movies that Beach Party spawned.
Of course music history tells us that not long after he gained real popularity his music and his style was ‘overrun’ by that emerging “British Beat” music, and except for utter die hard fans, Dick Dale was largely forgotten until ‘re-discovered’ in more recent times.
That didn’t stop him from releasing 12 albums between 1962 and 2001, along with 13 singles and 9 compilations.
This album consists of a mixture of original compositions and covers, such as “Kansas City” and “What’d I say“, to name a few.
- “King of the Surf Guitar” (Willis) – 2:06
- “The Lonesome Road” (Shilkret, Austin) – 3:14
- “Kansas City” (Leiber, Stoller)– 2:43
- “Dick Dale Stomp” (Dale) – 2:12
- “What’d I Say” (Charles) – 3:24
- “Greenback Dollar” (Axton, Ramsey) – 2:52
- “Hava Nagila” (Dale) – 2:04
- “You Are My Sunshine” (Davis, Mitchell) – 1:58
- “Mexico” (Bryant) – 2:10
- “Break Time” (Dale) – 2:45
- “Riders In The Sky” (Jones) – 2:11
- “If I Never Get to Heaven” (Carson, Botkin) – 2:55
“King of the Surf Guitar” begins with the track by the same name almost like an ‘in your face’ declaration. No matter what you hear from this point on, you ARE listening to the “King” when it comes to surf guitar. Incidentally, there are some fascinating pieces of information in regard to the musicians/artists that perform with Dick.
The piano playing is done by a young Leon Russell, who only a few years on later would become a big artist in his own right.
Then there is the female backing group, “The Blossoms“. This featured non other than Darlene Love. Love had a big hit in 1962 with “He’s a Rebel” and was part of many backing groups used by Phil Spector.
Urged on to ‘Listen, listen to the King’, Dick Dale lets fire with one of his trademark riffs, stating absolutely that when it comes to ‘Surf Music’, he is indeed ‘The King‘!
King of the Surf Guitar
It’s an indication of the strength of many of the tracks on this album that it can carry a few not so good tracks. It appears as though encouraged on by the success of “Surfers Choice“, Capitol decided to make this album one, to reach all people.
Dick Dale was never going to be all things to all music fans, and while he does a more than passable attempt with his vocals, the choice of some of the material by Capitol was very poor indeed.
One such example is the ‘lovelorn’ ballad, “You Are My Sunshine“. I bet he never did that live in a show.
However, the old stand by rocker “Kansas City” would have been one he may very well have played at live gigs. So I thought I should share it with you because it is a great effort by the “King of the Surf Guitar“, to sing up a storm.
It is very hard to not feature those tracks where his guitar work does the talk.
“Hava Nagila” is such a track. Noteworthy for the use of his ‘rapid picking’ style, this track was in fact an old Jewish folk piece, but what Dick Dale did to it would make the Yarmulke on the Jewish men’s heads, spin!
His playing has certainly put a new lease of life on this old track but it was a bit rich to claim the composing rights, even if he did a major modification on it.
The next track featured is another instrumental. It could almost be considered as a ‘classic’ having been covered by many groups and featured in a number of movies.
“(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” is one of those tracks that grabs you whenever you hear it and Dick plays it with passion and force yet again reinforcing his amazing ability even at such an early stage of his illustrious career.
His mastery of the electric guitar further reinforcing the fact that his style would be taken up by many guitarists who may have very well cut their teeth on Dick Dale’s music.
Riders in the Sky
Surviving a cancer scare Dick continued to play on, and continued to wow old and new fans alike.
After 50+ years of playing, his speed picking hadn’t slowed one iota, if anything is not just as fast but is even more powerful as we witnessed in the version of Misrilou used in Pulp Fiction.
Misrilou from Pulp Fiction
What isn’t understood is his close relationship with Jimi Hendrix. When Hendrix, in “Third Stone From The Sun“, recited the words, You’ll Never Hear Surf Music Again“, most scribes wrote that Hendrix was referring to the fact that his music had surpassed where current ‘rock’ music was at.
In fact Jimi had erroneously been told that his friend, Dick Dale, had died of colon cancer. In a later interview, Jimi declared that he added this phrase as a tribute to his friend.
It is ironical that the “Master” of the electric guitar passed on before his friend the “King of the Surf Guitar”.
Jimi Hendrix – short selection from ‘Third Stone from the Sun
Dick Dale won many awards, including Guitarist of the Year by Guitar Player Magazine (1981), a 1988 Grammy nomination along with Stevie Ray Vaughn for “Pipeline” (“Back to the Beach”), Induction into the Surfing Hall of Fame in San Diego (1989), a Platinum Record award for his performance recording of “Miserlou” (1996), Induction into the Hollywood Rock Hall of Fame (1996), among many more, before finally receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award by L.A. Weekly (2000).
When we listen back now to his early playing, it is very easy to disregard his style because over the years it has been reproduced and extended, by many guitarists.
Sadly Dick recently passed away, he was being treated for both heart and kidney failure.
Dick Dale : Don’t Play In Peace” – but keep playing up a storm (May 4, 1937 – March 16, 2019)
The album was re-released on both vinyl (Sundazed records in 2010) and on CD, with the CD version has bonus tracks included.
If you want a copy of the vinyl Capitol release, you can expect to pay around $35.00. A small payment for an iconic surf guitar album.
There are a good selection of Dick Dale videos on youtube, so I have chose a selection from around the same era as when this album was recorded, and one from his recent contribution to the movie – Pulp Fiction.
If you are a guitarist do check out the “Guitar Center sessions”, where Dick talks about his association with fender, a range of topics but, you can see as well as hear some great finger work.
Let’s Go Trippin’
Misrilou – 1963
Guitar Center Sessions
Dick performing Misrilou at fender NAAM 2008 Gala
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
Click to open:
#47. Donavon – Open Road